In what should always be a noon game (or even declared a No Contest before either team travels), No. 3 Ohio State takes on Big Ten East division rival Rutgers tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. in Ohio Stadium.
To its credit, Rutgers enters with a 3-1 record although its schedule-to-date hasn't exactly been a Murderer’s Row as the Scarlet Knights beat FCS Wagner, Temple and Boston College, the latter two by a combined three points, while losing to Iowa last weekend.
In short, this one should be another chance for Ryan Day and company to put up a bunch of points and allow a ton of backups to gain meaningful experience.
Ohio State’s run defense ranks just 42nd in yards per carry allowed (3.37) but did pretty well against Wisconsin outside of one long Braelon Allen run. How are you feeling about OSU’s run defense through four games? Does Ohio State have a defensive line stout enough to win a national title?
Kyle: I have been very impressed with the run defense thus far, as 68.5% of the rushing yards allowed by the Buckeyes have come when they already had a 15+ point lead. In those situations, OSU was likely playing a softer defense meant to take away big passing plays and has second-stringers in the game. In situations where the lead is less than 7 points, Jim Knowles' crew is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry, which would equate to 16th nationally in the category. Surely, some folks won't be happy until they rank first in every category, but yes, that result is certainly good enough to compete for a national title.
Johnny: I think that the defense is playing much better than they were last season overall, and I can accept the occasional defensive lapse as long as I don't also have to worry about them giving up 30 points a game. Here's the other thing: so far they've actually been pretty good at limiting long plays from scrimmage, ranking in the top 20 nationally of allowing plays of 10 yards or more. The defensive line is much more cohesive than last season; you're seeing guys like Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers rack up huge numbers of tackles because the d-line is doing exactly what they're supposed to do. You don't need a Chase Young out there sacking the quarterback every play if the end result is the same.
Josh: Not worried at all. I'm very confident in Ohio State's front seven and believe that they will only get better as the season goes on in Year 1 under Jim Knowles leading the defense. Would be nice if they wouldn't let up those big runs even when the score is already out of hand, but overall, I believe the Buckeye run defense will be just fine the rest of the way.
Inexperienced reserve cornerbacks Jyaire Brown and JK Johnson held their own versus Wisconsin but considering Graham Mertz is terrible and the Badgers have zero playmakers on the outside, it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions on the duo. What’s your take on the state of Ohio State’s cornerback room? How important is it for Denzel Burke to get right?
Josh: A bit worried but it will only (potentially) matter against teams such as Penn State, Maryland and Michigan during the regular season, so Knowles and company still have some time to figure things out in the defensive backfield. Depth, or lack thereof, is certainly a problem, but the youngsters getting some early playing time could pay dividends down the road. If Denzel Burke can return to his 2021 form, that would be quite a significant boost to arguably the only group of the defense (cornerbacks) that the Buckeyes could have a problem with down the road.
Kyle: This is certainly an area to watch as the season progresses, as teams like Maryland and Penn State would have a rare talent advantage over the Buckeyes out wide if Burke can't play. Both teams feature legit NFL prospects at receiver and with the Buckeye safeties so active in stopping the run game, the corners often get left alone to man up their opponents. Even with a healthy Burke and Cameron Brown, it will be interesting to see if and how Knowles tries to help out the corners, as it's been the lone weak spot in a clearly improved defense.
Johnny: At this point it's going to be hard to tell exactly what's going on there, and frankly we're not going to really know until probably the Penn State game. As you mentioned, anyone trying to get any kind of read on the unit as a whole from the results of the Wisconsin game might as well be rolling dice at this point. With that said, I think they have the talent to be very solid overall, and I think Burke getting his head screwed on a little tighter is probably more for his benefit as a player than anything else.
Ohio State’s tailback combo of TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams is splitting carries almost evenly (50 attempts for Tre / 43 for Miyan) though Williams has a slight edge in yards per carry at this point. We knew the distribution of carries would be tighter than last year (183 Tre, 71 Miyan) but did you think it would be damn near even at this point? Does one or the other “deserve” more carries? Should Day deploy them any differently?
Johnny: I'm usually not a fan of splitting time with running backs at all; I think a lot of what they do relies on consistent reps and developing a rapport with the offensive line. That rule doesn't seem to hold true for Chop (I'm trying to make the nickname Hellboy stick but I think that's a losing battle) because he's such a tough runner and really seems to enjoy the contact part of this sport. Henderson does seem to be impacted by the reduced workload somewhat, but overall I'm totally fine with it working out as it is now, and keeping the both of them fresh for the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Josh: I love it, personally. I didn't think it would be evenly split but that just shows you how good Williams has been. Henderson receiving fewer carries (and a more even split) is more about the fact that Williams would start for the majority of other programs throughout college football than anything else. Keeping both fresh for the fourth quarter has been huge. Just wait until they're both fresh as the season goes on. Could be something that we look back on as being really important for the success of the offense later on in the season, especially once it gets colder outside.
Kyle: Day mentioned this on his radio show yesterday, but he sees the two as having complementary styles, which has certainly shown up on the film this season. Henderson consistently looks to bounce the ball outside in order to break a long run, but that can backfire as he spends as much time running laterally as he does vertically. Meanwhile, Williams may not win as many foot races in the open field, but he is effective at finding gaps between the tackles and turning a 3-yard gain into 6, or 5 into 10. Allowing them to split carries should keep them both fresh down the stretch as OSU likely has to play more close games in the postseason, and will need them both to grind out the clock as they did against Notre Dame on opening day.
I thought it was cool to have Herbie on the call last Saturday as his son saw some mop-up duty although I think I’m about over the Chris Fowler experience. He might just be spread too thin at this point. Give us your favorite current play-by-play guy and color commentator. They don’t have to be currently paired up.
Kyle: I have no issue with Fowler, and don't find him annoying like some others doing national games (aka Gus) but he also doesn't add a ton to the experience, either. I have always been partial to Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge and thought they do a great job calling games together. Both are professionals who are always prepared and rarely make mistakes that distract from what's happening on the field. That said, I think Robert Griffin III is a very welcome addition to Saturdays, as he has a much bigger personality than his brief stints in the studio let on. I've found myself sticking around to watch his games with Mark Jones far more often than I anticipated, as RGIII clearly has a lot of fun calling games.
Johnny: My all-time favorite duo was Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge. Individually I don't think that they were the absolute best at what they did, but they are both very, very good, and together I think they created an unmatched college football atmosphere. I'm also a big Gus Johnson/Joel Klatt fan, and I think some of the younger Ohio State alums like Josh Perry and James Laurinaitis (sigh) are/were fantastic in the booth.
Josh: This one is tough, honestly. Herbie is great, Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt pair really well together and the list goes on. As an Ohio State and Cleveland sports fan, though, I'm blessed with a bunch of really good radio and TV announcers, something that I should never take for granted.
Ohio State is a huge 41-point favorite over the Scarlet Knights. Do the Buckeyes cover? Give us your final score and game MVP not named C.J. Stroud.
Josh: Man, 41 points is such a big number. At that point, you have to factor in whether the backups will be able to stay over the spread late in the game, if you think Ohio State will cover. That said, I think the Buckeyes will put up 55-plus points and won't give up more than 14. So, I guess they will cover? I'll go with 59-13. Go backups, I guess?
Kyle: Rutgers is bringing the 97th-ranked offense in the country to Ohio Stadium, with a backup QB at the helm. The Buckeyes cover in a 56-7 blowout where Tanner McCalister has a huge game, hauling in a pick-six.
Johnny: I don't think they cover just because Schiano will try and shorten this game as much as possible, so let's say 48-13 good guys with Chop running for 150 and getting the MVP.